Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Education of a Teacher

This fall has found me finding a renewed passion for my profession. Not that my passion had necessarily waned significantly, but I often feel it dim as I struggle with discipline issues, various student dramas, long hours with a pay that doesn't necessarily reflect the many hours put in, and occasional boredom with the subject matter. The past several weeks, though, have given me some time for reflection and to really think about why I do what I do and even how I do what I do.

The path to this renewal and reflection began with my agreement to accept a student teacher this fall. I'd often refused to take a student teacher in the past, feeling that I was still too new at my job to really be effective in mentoring someone. What could I possibly teach a young teacher when I felt like I still had so much to learn myself? When I was approached last spring about the possibility of hosting a student teacher, I finally felt like I was comfortable enough in my professional skin to pull this off. I've been doing this for ten years now. Certainly that was enough time, right?

While the actual mentoring process has been a fascinating experience (bringing back such memories of my own time as a student teacher), the process has also helped me find a new love for my job. The thing is that, once I handed over my students to another, I missed my kids. I missed standing up there and talking to them and trying to guide them through the intricacies of writing, reading, and speaking. I found myself yearning to make lesson plans and grade essays. I've taken back two of my classes this week, and the renewed vigor is exhilarating.

Because someone else was essentially doing my job all day, I found myself with a lot of downtime. I do not do downtime well. At first, it was actually great. I was able to get a ton of other work done -- work for the fall play, speech cuttings, lesson planning (I am planned through the end of the semester in all my courses . . . yeah . . . I know!). Eventually, though, I found myself at the end of my to-do list. Planning through the end of the school year seemed a bit excessive (albeit tempting). I could only surf so much Internet before boredom set in. Finally, another teacher handed me a copy of a book that really left me aching to return to the classroom.

The book was called The Education of a Teacher. It was written by a former colleague, Susan Van Kirk. Sue was my department chair my first year of teaching and was a patient, kind, intelligent mentor as I faced the trials of that first year. One of the reasons why it's making the rounds at my school is that it is about our high school. Sue taught at our high school for over 30 years. Her book tells stories of her experiences first as a young teacher in the late 1960s and early 70s through her retirement and move to teaching college level education courses at a local college. While some of the stories are unique experiences to this particular school (such as the school board's decision in the early 1980's to essentially gut the school for renovations -- while classes were still going on in the building), many are universal, whether it is dealing with the sudden death of a student or fighting censorship at the hands of bullying parents. Many of the stories are quite moving. More than once I found myself fighting tears as I lived vicariously through Sue and faced the same losses and grief that she did. Other stories, though, are full of wit and joy and serve as reminders of the very human faces that teachers encounter.

While the book helped me pass my time, it also made my ache to return to the classroom even greater. Sue's book is about more than the classroom; it's about the opportunity teachers have to be counselors and friends at times when students need them the most. I've come to terms with the fact that I am often a bit of a surrogate mom for many of my students, giving them advice and compassion when both seem completely absent. I've spent many long hours after school talking kids through traumas, both academic and personal. I've mediated, cajoled, supported, and led kids through many difficult times. Sue's book was a reminder of that relationship, of that responsibility teachers have. It all comes back to that idea of being a role model and showing students what adult life can be. I realized that I was missing out on the opportunity to forge those bonds with new classes of students and would be returning to desks filled with virtual strangers that I would now have to work double time to connect with. Sue's book made me realize that I AM a teacher and that there is absolutely nothing on this earth that I would rather be. Well, outside of Mrs. Jon Hamm, that is, but that's another kind of book altogether.
I urge my readers (all ten of you!) to go out and get a copy of this book. It's available through a variety of online booksellers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For teachers, this book will reaffirm your love of your craft. For non-teachers, it will provide a glimpse into the life of this profession. For anyone, it will move, entertain, and inspire you in a truly profound way.


Mike said...

You couldn't have been a teacher for over 10 years. I mean I just graduated college like what 6 years ago at most, so how could that be possible?!?!?

Oh yeah, I missed my 10 year reunion a few years back.

Anyway, great post. You're student teacher is pretty lucky too, I'm sure.

Mel said...

I know! TEN YEARS! And I'm almost 40! It's not a cute Sally "It's there, just waiting" moment. It's a year away!!